While I didn't make the Orange Prize deadline, I'm still reading the short-list nominated books over the summer. I am glad, however, that weeks ago I managed to finish Kingsolver's magnificent (and winning!) novel before the announcement took over the world that the prize belonged to her. I'm still going to read the other short-listed books (I've got them all now and might take them up to the cottage with me this weekend) but I've already made up my mind that this novel truly deserved the win.
The book opens with a fairly typical "memoir"-type first section. A young boy, terrorized by howler monkeys on an island just off the coast of Mexico, lives with his mother in a tumble down estate with a sort of stepfather. It's here that Harrison, born to a Mexican mother and an American father, finds his first lacuna, a hidden pool, which becomes significant later in life. The lacuna -- literally and metaphorically -- figures heavily in the novel, and not just because of the title. Harrison himself is a lacuna, keeping his inner life, his feelings, his sexuality, hidden except for the prime few who know the right times to dive in and avoid the tides.
The novel changes in tone after the first section, written by Harrison as memoir (he becomes a fiction writer as a career) and then we're invited into reading about the rest of his life through private journals he left in the care of his secretary, Violet Brown. Interspersed with the journals are newspaper articles, transcripts and all kinds of other ephemera, which encourage you to scavenge, in a way, for the story. Harrison remains a mystery until the end, and the ending of this novel is magical -- it's totally worth the little bit of time it takes to get into the story, and Kingsolver's masterly way of incorporating real characters into her fiction never suffers from what I like to call The Forrest Gump Affliction. It's inherent and real in terms of the story, which comes from excellent research (one would imagine) and a keen sense of how a novel should work.
It's one of my favourite books for the year, hands down.